Physical Therapy vs. Chiropractic Care
Our patients often ask what the difference is between physical therapy and chiropractic care. It's a good question, since the goal of both are similar: to get patients back to their normal level of functioning without pain. Both approaches are used to treat physical ailments, from joint pain to back pain, to headaches. However, physical therapists and chiropractors use very different approaches to help alleviate problems.
What are the qualifications?
Depending on when they went to school and their choice of continuing education, PTs may have a bachelor's degree, master's degree, and/or a clinical doctoral degree (DPT). To earn a DPT, a student must complete an additional three years of schooling beyond a related undergraduate program.
Chiropractors are Doctors of Chiropractic (DC). A chiropractic program does not require an undergraduate degree for acceptance, though many students have one. The program is usually four years long.
How are they licensed?
Physical therapists are licensed by the state in which they work after passing a board examination. This means once licensed, they can only work in the state they are licensed, unless they get licensed in another state, which often requires additional examinations.
Chiropractors are licensed nationally after taking a board examination from the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. This means once licensed, they can work anywhere in the country.
What issues does the clinician work with?
Physical therapist work with injuries, issues, and dysfunctions that involve the musculoskeletal system (muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, etc) and the neuromuscular (nervous) system. Physical therapists believe that by strengthening, stretching, and correcting muscle imbalances, pain and ailments can be alleviated. Common issues are back pain, neck pain, hip pain, gait and balance, dizziness, carpal tunnel, and more.
Chiropractors work with injuries, issues, and dysfunctions that involve the musculoskeletal system (muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, etc) and the neuromuscular (nervous) system, and relate these issues to the spine. The theory is that spinal "adjustments" facilitate the free flow of nerve energy, which, in turn relieves most ailments. Common issues are back pain, neck pain, and sciatica.
What are the goals of the treatment?
Physical therapy goals focus on decreasing pain and improving daily functional performance with an emphasis on a progressive, independent home exercise program.
Chiropractic goals are to decrease pain and then have the patient return for follow up visits for maintenance of spinal alignment.
Who sees them for treatment?
Physical therapists treat a wide range of patients from a few weeks old to over 100 years old, from sports injuries to general deconditioning to post-stroke rehabilitation.
Chiropractors treat a wide range of patients from a few weeks old to over 100 years old, from sports injuries to post-stroke rehabilitation.
What is the treatment focus?
Treatment is specific to the injured or painful part of the body and works with the soft tissue, nervous system, and joint structures involved.
Chiropractors generally believe that the health of the spine affects overall health and focus treatment on manipulating the spine.
How long will treatment take?
The average course of care is 10 visits, but depends on the patient's condition and response to care.
The treatment programs are usually established for return visits over a period of time (usually between 3 months and a year) depending on the patient's condition.
What does treatment look like?
Physical therapists use a variety of techniques to treat the ailment, which may include soft tissue work/massage, joint manipulations (including the spine), acupressure, stretching, strengthening, dry needling, and laser light therapy.
Chiropractors use a variety of techniques to treat the ailment, but usually focus on high velocity thrusts to manipulate the spine. These are quick thrusts over the restricted joints with the goal of restoring normal range of motion in the joint.
What is the main component of treatment?
Physical therapists emphasize strengthening as the main component of treatment.
Chiropractors emphasize good spinal health as the main component of treatment.
What is the general relationship between clinician and patient?
The general relationship involves the therapist educating and empowering the patient to prevent recurrence of injury or pain.
The general relationship has the patient returning for subsequent spinal adjustments as needed for pain relief.
Which is right for you? Only you can really say. Most important is the way the professional treats the patient. Does the doctor listen to you and treat you - and your problem - as an individual? Does the doctor spend time with you, or are you always with an aide? Were you a participant in creating a treatment plan?
Remember too that you have freedom of choice! You don't have to go to whomever - or whichever - your doctor recommends. These days, you can find out a lot simply by typing a name into Google. Find the option that works best for you.
Our sole focus is getting you feeling better and staying better. So if you or a loved one is in pain, we'd love to help. Call us at 508-650-0060 to set up an initial evaluation! Not sure if physical therapy is right for you? Ask us for a FREE consultation. At FlexPlus Physical Therapy, we're with you every step of the way.